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Creating a dementia-friendly 4th of July: The “Dos and Don’ts

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Offers Tips to Families Caring for a Loved One with Dementia this Independence Day 

 Fireworks, parades, and backyard gatherings are all Independence Day traditions, but they can also create unique challenges for families and friends affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. As we prepare to celebrate July 4th, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) has some tips to help families create a dementia-friendly holiday.

“Fireworks and large crowds can be distressing and disorienting for someone with dementia, which is why it’s important that families make the proper adaptations to ensure their loved one living with dementia can celebrate and enjoy Independence Day,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, SIFI, Director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Proactive planning and consideration will go a long way towards making July 4th a happy, joyous occasion for a loved one with dementia.” 

AFA encourages families to follow these “dos and don’ts” for creating a successful, dementia-friendly celebration.

Don’t: Take your loved one to live fireworks displays

Fireworks and loud explosions can agitate someone living with dementia. They can also be triggering if the person is also a war veteran and thinks they are hearing gunshots or bombs. Consider keeping the person in a quiet, indoor area at times when they might hear fireworks. Adapt the fireworks tradition by watching fireworks displays on TV.

Do: Have a plan prepared

The noise and explosions of nearby fireworks can cause anxiety, fear, or agitation for someone living with dementia, even if your loved one is indoors. Prepare the person in advance by sharing that there may be loud noises. Continue gently doing so at different points during the time you are together.

Air conditioners, white noise machines, and other soothing background sounds can help maintain calm even if fireworks are going off nearby. Playing familiar, favorite or soothing music also helps support your loved one. Having favorite items/objects on hand (i.e., blanket, article of clothing, etc.) can provide additional comfort.

Check in during the night if the individual lives with you. If they live alone, consider asking a trusted relative or friend to stay with them, or hire an overnight in-home caregiver.

Don’t: Involve the person in large gatherings

Large crowds can be overwhelming and disorienting for someone living with dementia, so if you’re planning a gathering, keep it small. Consider providing name tags for everyone to help cue your loved one.

Because of the possibility of sundowning, lunchtime celebrations might work best; a daytime event could reduce anxiety and confusion (fireworks are also less likely at this time of the day). Keep the person’s routines as normal as possible, including mealtimes, naptimes, and going to sleep at night. Incorporate favorite activities into the day.

Parades usually have large crowds and loud noises; adapt this tradition by watching parades on TV.

Do: Be festive and creative

Create patriotic decorations with your loved one: try playing or singing familiar patriotic music, baking 4th of July themed desserts, or compiling a family album with pictures of past Independence Day memories. These festive July 4th activities have the added benefit of being cognitively stimulating, and help your loved one express themselves creatively.

Families with questions or concerns can speak with a licensed social worker by calling AFA’s Helpline at 866-232-8484, sending a text message to 646-586-5283 or web chatting through AFA’s website, www.alzfdn.org. The helpline is open seven days a week.

About Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA)

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide support, services and education to individuals, families and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias nationwide and to fund research for better treatment and a cure. Its services include a National Toll-Free Helpline (866-232-8484) staffed by licensed social workers, the National Memory Screening Program, educational conferences and materials, and “AFA Partners in Care” dementia care training for healthcare professionals. For more information about AFA, call 866-232-8484, visit www.alzfdn.org, follow us on Twitter or connect with us on FacebookInstagram or LinkedIn. AFA holds Charity Navigator’s top 4-star rating

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